Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Shantou University, Shantou, 515063, China; Agro-Environmental Protection Institute, Ministry of Agriculture of China, Tianjin, 300191, China. Electronic address: [Email]
The increase in the proportion of microplastics in the environment has intensified the interest in phthalate and microplastic contamination in recent years. In this study, we investigated the response of photosynthetic parameters and the antioxidant system of lettuce to di-n-butyl phthalate (DBP) stress and exposure to various concentrations of microplastic polyethylene (MP) for different durations (14 d and 28 d). Lettuce growth, photosynthetic parameters, and chlorophyll content were reduced significantly after MP- and DBP-only treatments and after the combined (MP + DBP) treatments with both pollutants (P < 0.05), when compared with the control. Our findings indicated that the exposure to MP can inhibit growth, hinder photosynthesis, and interfere with the antioxidant defense system in lettuce. Specifically, compared with the DBP-only treatment group, in all MP + DBP treatment groups, the lettuce growth parameters (dry and fresh weights of the leaves and roots and the number of leaves) decreased (P < 0.05). Moreover, the photosynthetic rate, stomatal conductance, transient transpiration rate, fluorescence parameters, chlorophyll content of leaves, and activity of Rubisco decreased, but the intercellular CO2 concentration increased in all MP + DBP treatment groups. The reduction in photosynthesis was attributed to the limitation of non-porosity and inhibition of the photoelectron flow, and the increase in exogenous MP content aggravated the effect of DBP on photosynthesis in lettuce. Compared with the DBP-only group, in all MP + DBP treatment groups, the content of superoxide radicals and hydrogen peroxide in lettuce leaves and roots increased. Antioxidant levels increased with the increase in MP content, except in the 1.0 mg mL-1 MP treatment after 14 d. Although the antioxidant system exhibited certain protective effects in the latter treatment, the cell membranes were still damaged. The degree of damage to cells decreased with the growth of lettuce, but the damage to root tissue always remained higher than that of the leaves. In conclusion, exposure to exogenous MP exacerbated the damage to lettuce by DBP.